JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD. Wash. - Upside down and arching her head back, Lakes High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet Corporal Diasia Billings could see the other side of the commando line and safety.

She could also see the cold, rushing water of the stream 15 feet below her.

Letting out a shriek that was one part terror and one part determination, Billings pulled herself across to the cheers of her classmates.
"That was the toughest thing I've ever had to do," Billings said. "I can't believe I did that."

With spring break in swing, Army JROTC cadets from four schools camped out at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for this year's Joint Combined Leadership Challenge March 29 through April 2. Air Force JROTC programs also attended the camp. Nearly 300 cadets from Lakes, Arlington, Todd Beamer and Federal Way high schools attended the camp.

Designed to promote leadership and teambuilding, the camp put teens through their paces on land navigation, water survival, rappelling, physical training, communications and first aid.

Lakes High School teacher and JROTC chaperone Pat Hannam said the program brought out the best in the cadets.

"It's fun seeing the kids in another light," Hannam said. "It's fantastic to watch."

The teens worked through their own problems and developed strategies to tackle each challenge they were presented, she said.

"I'm amazed that they want to get up and do PT at 0430 in the morning," Hannam said. "Some of them just thrive on it."

The cadets were motivated and worked well together, according to Hannam.

"We have great kids," she said.

Cadet Captain James Wojtowicz, 18, said he enjoyed the camp and the opportunity to work with other JROTC programs.

"I've been in (JROTC) since my freshman year, and it's really been a blast," Wojtowicz said.

Part of the fun is having an opportunity to teach skills to newer cadets, he said. Wojtowicz plans a career in the Army.

"I'd like to be a part of building something," Wojtowicz said.

"Lakes has run the camp for 10 years, and every year we try to put something different into the camps," said Gerald Rosenbaum, the senior Army instructor at Lakes.

This year's new event was called "Find Ben Baumer." Rosenbaum said the cadets had to combine different aspects of the challenge to decipher clues about finding the "Baumer," as Rosenbaum was called.

"It's a big deal for these schools to try to find me," he said. "I have some surprises for them along the way."

Rosenbaum, a retired lieutenant colonel and Green Beret said the tasks are all about growth, leadership and camaraderie.

The three Air Force JROTC programs were combined into a single element with Lakes High School's JROTC as it provided administrative oversight for the weeklong challenge.

Rosenbaum said the JROTC cadets rise to whatever challenges they face.

"I've got kids tutoring at Evergreen Elementary," Rosenbaum said. "We've got cadets that started as a little kids' drill team at Hillside Elementary on post."

Rosenbaum said the teens were motivated to reach out to military children because of their own experiences with deployed family members.

"They thought they could help," Rosenbaum said.

Cadets are also involved with fundraising activities.

"They raised more than $8,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund," Rosenbaum said.

The teens have also been training to man shortwave radios in support of disaster relief efforts through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.

"A lot of them overcome challenges they didn't think they could do," Rosenbaum said.

The camp helps teach cadets to be more self-reliant and capable, he said.

"Momma's not here to bail them out," Rosenbaum said. "There will be a lot of change for these kids."

Pvt. Aaron Carpenter is with 28th Public Affairs Detachment.
Rick Wood is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis McChord's Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16